Mammoth WWII bomb in Frankfurt defused after mass evacuation

More than 60,000 people forced to leave homes as sappers dispose 1.8 ton ordnance that could have damaged large swath of German financial capital

Disposers Dieter Schwaetzler, left, and Rene Bennert sit next to 1.8 ton WWII bomb right after they defused it, in Frankfurt, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. (AP/Michael Probst)
Disposers Dieter Schwaetzler, left, and Rene Bennert sit next to 1.8 ton WWII bomb right after they defused it, in Frankfurt, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. (AP/Michael Probst)

FRANKFURT, Germany — Bomb disposal experts defused a huge unexploded World War II-era bomb in the German financial capital Frankfurt that forced the evacuation of more than 60,000 residents, police said Sunday.

Hospital patients and the elderly were among those affected in what was Germany’s biggest evacuation in recent history.

A policeman walks past a blue tent covering a British World War II bomb that was found during construction works on August 30, 2017 in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany. (AFP Photo/DPA/Boris Roessler/Germany OUT)

Construction workers found the 1.8-ton (4,000-pound) British bomb Tuesday. Officials ordered residents to evacuate homes within a 1.5-kilometer (nearly a mile) radius of the site in Germany’s financial capital.

The high capacity bomb, also dubbed a Blockbuster, was one of thousands dropped over Germany by the Royal Air Force during the final years of World War II to cripple the Nazi war machine and demoralize the German population.

Authorities warned that if the bomb had exploded, the shock wave could have caused widespread damage throughout the western part of the city.

The operation in central Frankfurt to get residents to safety was the biggest evacuation of its kind in post-war Germany, the city’s security chief Markus Frank said.

Dozens of ambulances lined up early Sunday to pick up anyone unable to independently leave the danger zone.

After hours of delay as police struggled to get the area cleared, bomb disposal experts finally managed to disarm the explosive in the evening.

Dieter Schwetzler, right, and Rene Bennert of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Division stand behind the World War II bomb they defused in Frankfurt, Germany, on September 3, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Thomas Lohnes)

Police then began lifting the evacuation order progressively, giving priority for patients in two hospitals within the affected district to be brought back to their wards.

Close to the city center, the bomb was discovered in the Westend district, home to many of Frankfurt’s top bankers, including European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi — who is known to spend his weekends away from the city.

The massive operation began at dawn, as homes and buildings within a 1.5-kilometre radius of the site were ordered cleared by 6 a.m.

But some people were still in the evacuation zone well past the deadline as police carried out door-to-door checks.

Police officers check if residents have left the evacuation area in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on September 3, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Lohnes)

At one building where officers were ringing doorbells and using loudspeakers to announce the evacuation, a man and a woman emerged, saying they were unaware they were in the affected district.

At midday, emergency services were still unable to give the all-clear for bomb disposal units to move in.

After a delay of at least two hours, experts were finally able to start disarming the bomb, an HC 4000, a high-capacity explosive used in air raids by Britain’s Royal Air Force during World War II.

Some elderly residents affected by the evacuation recalled poignant memories of the war.

A member of the fire brigade, left, coordinates together with sister Sigrid , center, of the shelter for homeless people ‘Ray of Hope’, during an evacuation of more than 60 000 people in Frankfurt, Germany, Sunday, September 3, 2017. (Boris Roessler/dpa via AP)

“I was here in Frankfurt’s Westend during the war. I heard the bombs falling when I was in the basement, and I helped to extinguish the fires. So I knew how it feels and for me it’s not a new experience,” said Doris Scheidt, 91.

Another resident, Eva Jarchow, said the evacuation “reminds me of our flight from Berlin when the bombs were still falling during the war. Here, at least, it’s calm and sunny.”

Giesela Gulich, meanwhile, had a “queasy feeling about it (as) the bomb stayed in the soil for so long, but now, when it’s being moved, you don’t know what can happen.”

City officials had readied halls as temporary lodgings, while museums were offering free entry.

People wait in an exhibition hall serving as a shelter as evacuation measures are under way in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on September 3, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Lohnes)

Others had packed their bags and were ready to head out for a full day.

David Hoffmann, 29, who works at a bank, was loading up luggage in his car.

“I have the essentials with me — the most important documents,” he said, though he complained that he had not received any leaflets about the evacuation.

Evacuated hotel guests walk down a road near the site where a unexploded World War II bomb was found in Duesseldorf, western Germany, on March 9, 2017. (David Young/AFP)

More than 70 years after the end of the war, unexploded bombs are regularly found buried in Germany, legacies of the intense bombing campaigns by the Allied forces against Nazi Germany.

On Saturday, 21,000 people had to be evacuated from the western city of Koblenz as bomb disposal experts defused an unexploded American World War II shell.

In May, 50,000 residents were forced to leave their homes in the northern city of Hanover for an operation to defuse several World War II-era bombs.

And one of the biggest such evacuations took place on Christmas Day 2016, when another unexploded British bomb, containing 1.8-tonnes of explosives, prompted the evacuation of 54,000 people in the southern city of Augsburg.

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